Stephen closed his eyes and blocked out all the sounds around him the same way he'd done on a daily basis for the past hundred years. These meditation sessions allowed him to oversee the world's events, past, present, and future. To some extent, Stephen didn't see the point. With the exception of a few cataclysmic events, the Sanctum maintained a strict no interference policy. So, despite all of the wars, plagues, famines, and other miscellaneous horrors happening on a daily basis, all Stephen was allowed to do was watch. He took a deep breath and prepared himself for the usual onslaught of images. However, this time something different happened.
A bald woman with elven like features appeared before him in a set of yellow robes. He'd met her a few times before, once when he first started searching for the sanctum, once when he joined the sanctum, and one final time to teach him a bit of magic. She referred to herself as the Ancient One. "Hello, Stephen," she said with a smile, "it's been a long time."
"That was your choice. It's not like I've gone anywhere."
"True enough," she said, turning away from him. She started walking and Stephen followed. "I gave you the information you needed and you've flourished since then. There was no need to interfere further."
"But now there is?"
She stopped and looked at him. "I'm afraid so. In fact, the very reason I led you to the Sanctum so long ago was so that you might change the course of events about to transpire."
"You're telling me that I am the key to stopping the next cataclysm?"
"One of the keys, yes."
"But I haven't seen anything like that during my meditations."
"That's because you aren't seeing far enough ahead. The things you do now are what will give you a fighting chance in the future, but it will cost you a great deal."
"But not doing it will cost me just as much, right?"
The Ancient One smiled, "in a different way."
Stephen sighed and crossed his arms. He wished she'd be less cryptic. "What do I need to do?" he asked.
"Find the lost king and help him reclaim his throne."
"That isn't a lot to go on."
"Unfortunately, I can't give you much more. I will leave you with this, however," the Ancient One said, pressing her pointer finger to Stephen's forehead.
Pictures flooded his mind. He saw a massive humanoid creature with green skin raging in a dungeon, a beautiful woman with red hair navigating a masquerade ball, an archer stopping a carriage on the road, a young man with a round shield at his side speaking with a middle aged woman at a campfire, a muscular man cutting his way through a swarm of enemies with a mighty axe, and, finally, a dark haired man with a bit of facial hair being crowned king.
Stephen opened his eyes. Sunlight filtered through the Sanctum's windows as a chime sounded with the wind. He had his leads. Now he just had to chase them down.
Tony woke with a start as roughly a gallon of cold water splashed across his face and upper torso. In the confusion, he accidentally kicked one of the blondes sleeping beside him. It took him a moment to process the whole situation. He was hung over and laying naked in a pile of hay. Putting that together with the fact that he'd been sleeping next to three others who were similarly naked, he concluded that he'd gotten a little wild at last night's festival.
"You look like an ass," the dwarf, Eitri, said as he looked down at his apprentice with disdain. Judging by the empty bucket under his arm, he was the one who'd dumped the water on Tony. "You were supposed to meet me at the Smithy an hour ago."
"Right, right. Sorry about that," Tony said, sitting up.
"Cut him a little slack, Eitri," came Thor's voice from beside Tony. Tony had to do a double take. Apparently Thor had been one of the blondes from earlier. Having made such a grave mistake, Tony looked at the other two more closely to confirm that, yes, they were indeed women. "Yesterday was a festival day."
"But today is not," Eitri responded harshly, "which means it's a work day and that Tony should be helping me out at the shop."
"Just give a moment to get myself together, alright?" Tony asked. All this back and forth was not making his headache any better.
Eitri sighed, but let up. "Meet me at the shop as soon as you can," he said before taking his leave.
Tony turned to Thor and frowned. "So... Last night. Did we... you know?" he asked.
"If we did, I have a feeling you'd know it," Thor said with a grin.
Well, that was true. Tony supposed the fact that his backside wasn't sore was somewhat reassuring. It didn't mean they hadn't done other things though. Still, Tony felt like he'd dodged a crossbow bolt. Thor was a good friend and attractive to boot, but Tony did not want to deal with that sort of awkwardness between them. It was bad enough that they seemed to have had sex in the same general vicinity as each other.
With all the talking going on, the two women started waking up. It was clear to Tony now that they were a set of twins from the village. He'd be sure to get an earful from their father if he'd ever learned of this. Of course, with Thor involved maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Having your daughter favored by one of the Princes of Asgard wasn't exactly a bad thing. Having a daughter involved with a foreigner like Tony on the other hand...
"Thank you for last night," Thor said, kissing his twin's hand gently, "I don't remember it, but I'm sure it was lovely." She smiled in response and scooted closer so that her breasts were pressing against Thor's arm. Soon enough, the two were all over each other. If Tony didn't leave soon, he'd have to bear witness to Thor's escapades sober. He didn't think he could handle that right now.
He looked at his twin who wore a rather disappointed look on her face. That was about what Tony expected. "Um, hey," Tony said, "I'm sorry, but I've got to run..." She didn't seem too bothered by that. He figured she'd hoped that she'd be the one who wound up with Thor last night. Tony quickly put on his clothes and gave tried giving her one last goodbye before rushing off to the smithy.
When he got there, Eitri was already hard at work. He grunted in acknowledgement when he saw Tony and then turned back to his work. Tony figured he'd better get started on polishing the weapons they had on display. As Eitri was in a bad mood, he probably wouldn't be teaching Tony anything new today.
It had been a couple of years since Tony had come to Asgard now. Making the shift to a peasant lifestyle hadn't exactly been easy. Still, he was able to take a certain pride in it. Back at the castle, everyone had waited on him hand and foot. Now everything he had he had because he'd earned it. Working as a black smith had felt like a natural fit for him too. All in all, this life was pretty respectable.
"Hey," Eitri spoke up after an hour or so. He stopped hammering away at the sword he was working on for a moment and looked at Tony.
"What is it?"
"Just... Be careful."
"About what?" Tony asked with a frown.
"Don't forget that you aren't actually one of them," Eitri explained, "the Asgardians may let you live here, but if trouble ever comes your way... They won't have your back."
"Thor is different," Tony said.
"Maybe," Eitri admitted, "but I wouldn't count on that."
Tony was more than ready to hit the bed when he got home that evening. With a yawn, he opened his door and headed towards the bedroom. It was on his way there, however, that he noticed something was off. On the kitchen table was a sheet of parchment. As far as he remembered, it hadn't been there the day before. He changed his course and headed over to the table to inspect it.
The parchment was blank. He considered turning it over to investigate more thoroughly when he heard a quiet sliding sound.
If he'd reacted a second later, the assassin would have run him through with a sword. Instead, Tony managed to stumble out of the way as the blade sunk into the wood of the table. The assassin seemed undaunted. He pulled the sword back and then turned towards Tony, giving the blacksmith's apprentice a clear view of his attacker. The assassin was a young man with long dark hair. The bottom half of his face was covered up, but the metal arm gave the assassin's identity away. Everyone had heard of the Winter Soldier back in Tony's homeland.
Tony darted towards the front door, but the Winter Soldier cut him off. He charged forward and took another swipe at Tony. Tony backed up, avoiding the swing by an uncomfortable centimeter. Shit. Tony had no idea how he was going to get out of this one. He put some more distance between him and his would-be-assassin as he tried to figure out his next move.
Luckily, Thor figured it out for him. Hearing a commotion, Thor knocked the door open and ran inside, his weapon, Stormbreaker, at the ready. The Winter Soldier ducked out of the way and reconsidered his options as Thor placed himself between him and Tony. Apparently, fighting Thor wasn't worth the risk as the Winter Soldier instead chose to retreat through one of Tony's windows. "Are you alright?" Thor asked, turning to Tony with a grave expression on his face.
"Y-yeah," Tony said, "thanks to you. Amazing timing, by the way."
"I just got lucky," Thor frowned, "that assassin isn't finished with you though. He'll be back."
"We need to hunt him down. I'll talk to my father. We'll get a group of warriors together and get to the assassin before he gets to you."
"Thor," Tony sighed, "I don't know if..."
Thor wasn't listening. "Come with me," he ordered.
Tony followed him. He wasn't surprised when Thor took him directly to his father, Odin, King of Asgard. Thor proceeded to explain what happened and then requested that they do something about it. Odin sat on his throne, his expression revealing nothing as he listened to his son speak. When Thor finished, Odin finally spoke. "I will not risk Asgardian lives protecting an outsider."
"Tony isn't an outsider," Thor argued, "he lives in Asgard the same as the rest of us."
"That does not make him one of us," Odin said. "We have tolerated his presence, yes, but that was before he brought danger to our front door." At this, Odin turned to Tony.
"You are no longer welcome in Asgard. I will give you time to collect your things, but I want you gone before sunrise."
"This is wrong, father," Thor growled, "not to mention cowardly!"
"Silence!" Odin said, raising his voice threateningly, "my decision is final. I will not hear another word out of you."
Thor clenched his fists and angrily walked away. Tony politely excused himself and headed back home. He supposed thinking that he could settle down in Asgard forever was naive. His past was catching up to him. When he approached Eitri's shop, he decided to stop in. He might as well give the news to the dwarf himself.
"Did you forget something?" Eitri asked, looking up from behind the counter as Tony entered.
"No," Tony started, "I... Well, I was just attacked by an assassin and Odin kicked me out of Asgard. Basically, I won't be showing up tomorrow."
"You must think I was born yesterday if you expect me to believe that," Eitri said with a chuckle. When Tony didn't have a clever retort, Eitri reconsidered. "That wasn't a joke, was it?"
"I said it like it was, but no," Tony said.
Eitri crossed his arms and sighed. "Do you know where you're going to go now?"
"I wish I had a recommendation for you, but Asgard is the best place I've found." Eitri went over to the wall and pulled down a sword. "Here. At least take this. If you can't find a safe place... Well, at least you'll be able to protect yourself."
"Thanks, Eitri," Tony said, "I won't forget what you taught me."
"You'd better not. You'll be one of the greatest blacksmiths out there one day if you can just stop fooling around."
Tony said his final goodbyes and finished heading home. He hesitated at the door, a little nervous about entering after the attack. Still, he had to go in if he was going to grab what he needed for the journey ahead. It'd be hard to make do with just a sword. Tony made a mental list of everything and then entered. He quickly collected anything he thought might be useful and then headed back outside. To his surprise, Thor was waiting for him.
"Well, are you ready to go?" he asked.
"I'm pretty sure you're not allowed to come with me," Tony pointed out.
"Oh, I'm sure," Thor said, "but I don't care. You're my friend and I'm not about to let an assassin kill you. Besides, if we take care of the problem, then my father will have no reason to banish you."
Somehow, Tony didn't things would be that simple. "You're sure about this?"
"I'm sure," Thor said, patting Tony on the shoulder.
"I don't even know where I'm going."
"We'll work that out as we go."
Tony wished he had Thor's confidence. Either way, he was glad he wasn't in this alone.
After scouting the perimeter, Steve headed back to his and Meredith's campsite. He caught her humming to herself again as she cooked some stew over the fire. He'd always kind of liked her songs. They were never really meant for him, but she allowed him to hear her anyway. "Someone's in a good mood," Steve commented as he approached.
"I am," she said with a smile as she looked up, "but I'm also a little sad."
"You know that lead I got? It sounds promising, but..."
"It takes me in the opposite direction you're going."
That hit Steve harder than he'd thought it would. They'd been travelling together for ages now, both on the search for the person most important to them. He'd always known that this was a possibility, but during their travels together he'd come to think of Meredith as a mother of sorts. It had gotten to the point where he was actually a little jealous of the son she traveled the world looking for. He couldn't drop everything and go with her this time though. The lead he had on his childhood friend from the orphanage was one of the most promising ones he'd had in a long time. He had to keep heading towards Asgard. "I guess this will be our last night together for awhile then, huh?"
"Are you going to be alright on your own?"
"I'll have to be. If your lead is good, you can't ignore it."
She nodded solemnly. "If you're ever lonely, you can just hum that tune I always sing. It'll be like I'm there with you."
"That sounds a little embarrassing."
"You've always been too serious," Meredith smiled. She stirred the pot of stew and added, "I'll be heading towards Knowhere. If you finish tracking down your lead, maybe you can catch up."
"I'll try," Steve said with a nod.
The evening proceeded as normal. They shared a delicious meal and chatted into the night as they admired the stars. Once they'd had their fill of that, the got into their bedrolls and fell fast asleep. When morning rolled around, Meredith was already gone. Steve was okay with her not saying goodbye. This way, it still felt like they'd see each other again one day.
Steve picked up his things and tried humming Meredith's tune. He stopped after a few notes though, feeling embarrassed. He'd work on it later. Maybe. For now, he had to focus on his own mission. He had to find Bucky.